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Sports Cards Buying Guide

Tags:  sports cards | trading cards | posters | sports | fan apparel Write a guide!

Find that perfect sports card and build your inventory over time, or take the leap and buy a pre-owned collection. Whether you’re a casual hobbyist, a seasoned collector, or a serious investor, you’ll find a huge selection of sports cards on eBay.

Discover Sports Cards


Discover Sports Cards

Imagine the collection you’d like to own. You can find sports cards on eBay for Baseball-MLB, Football-NFL, Basketball-NBA, Hockey-NHL, Racing-NASCAR, Golf, Wrestling-WWE, and many others.

Collect vintage cards or new cards of individual players (singles) or entire team sets, established pros, or rookies. Be creative; there’s no right or wrong way to collect.

There are a number of popular sport card manufacturers, including Topps, Goudey, Fleer, Upper Deck, Donruss, and many others.

Three ways to buy sports cards

You can buy sports cards in unopened sets, as individuals, or as a collection.

  • In unopened packs, boxes, or sets: Unopened packs are an inexpensive way to get new cards (and possibly valuable cards or rare inserts if you’re lucky).

  • As individual cards or singles: Purchase singles if you know exactly what cards you want or if you prefer collecting individual players.

  • In sets, lots, or collections: For a fast and often economical way to get started, consider pre-owned sets, lots, or collections.

About sports card sets

Before you begin collecting, it’s helpful to understand a few common terms.

  • Set: A set is a collection of cards issued by a manufacturer that equals a completed unit.

  • Factory set: A factory set is a specially boxed set wrapped and sealed by the card manufacturer and distributed specifically to dealers.

  • Team set: A team set features an entire team and includes a team photo card and cards of each player.

  • Starter set: A starter set (or partial set) is a group of cards issued to provide collectors the first part of a complete set.

  • Trader set: A trader set (or update set) is a revised set featuring players who were traded shortly after the original set was published.

  • Lot: An auction lot is a more arbitrary grouping of cards made available by a collector, and can include one or more sets, or partial sets.

Remember: eBay does not review listings for quality or authenticity. It is up to you to research the item you are interested in and obtain any information about its authenticity before you place a bid or buy.


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Explore Sports Card Types


Explore Sports Card Types

Cards come in a variety of different types. The most common include:

  • All-star cards: Generally, All-star cards are cards of players who took part in the previous season’s all-star game, though sometimes they refer to any Major League star player.

  • Rookie cards: First-year cards for Major League players are called rookie cards. They’re popular with collectors in part because their value can increase with time.

  • Commons: Commons are cards of non-star players and make up the majority of cards in manufacturer-issued sets. Though usually less expensive than all-star or rookie cards, they can increase in value over time.

  • Vintage cards: Generally defined as cards older than 25 years, vintage cards possess historic and nostalgic value and are not necessarily expensive.

  • Autographed cards: Also known as autos, autographed cards have been signed by the featured player, usually before packaging to ensure authenticity. They generally sell at premium prices.

Less common but often valuable card types include:

  • Error cards: Cards that have been printed with unintentional mistakes (such as inaccurate statistics or reversed photos) are known as error cards.

  • Inserts: Inserts are bonus cards that are randomly inserted into issued sets but are not part of the sets.

  • Graded cards: If you want to be certain of a card’s authenticity and condition, consider buying graded cards. These are cards that have been independently assessed and ranked in value according to their physical condition. The highest ranking possible is 10.

  • Reprints: Reproductions of vintage cards are known as reprints, and are distinguished in some overt way from the originals.

  • Short-prints: Short prints are rarer cards in a set, printed in fewer quantities.

  • Variations: Variations are cards that are printed in more than one way, usually with minor differences.


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Evaluate Sports Card Quality & Authenticity


Evaluate Sports Card Quality & Authenticity

If you’re a serious collector looking to invest in sports cards, or if you want to sell your cards in auctions, be sure the cards have been graded by a respected grading service. Popular grading services include:

These independent organizations evaluate a card for authenticity and quality. Many use a 10-point grade scale. They then secure the card in a sealed, tamper-evident plastic holder complete with a certification tag, grade designation, and other pertinent card information. Graded cards command premium prices and allow collectors to buy and sell with confidence.

If you’re a casual hobbyist and want to collect inexpensive (i.e., under $20) sports cards just for fun, you’ll find ungraded cards to be cheaper and simpler to handle. Be aware, however, that ungraded cards will generally sell at lower prices than graded cards.

Even if you buy ungraded cards, be familiar with the following terms used by buyers and sellers to evaluate sports cards:

  • Mint (MT): Mint sports cards have perfectly sharp corners, perfect centering, a sharply focused photo, a flawless front and back, and no loss of gloss.

  • Near mint to mint (NRMT-MT): Near mint to mint sports cards have at least 60/40 centering, look perfect to the eye, but have slight corner wear, slight color fading, or loss of focus visible under magnification.

  • Near mint (NM): Near mint sports cards show no worse than 70/30 centering, slight corner wear, barely visible print spots, some color or focus loss to the naked eye.

  • Excellent to mint (EXMT): Excellent to mint sports cards are essentially the same as near mint, but with a bit more wear on at least two corners.

  • Excellent (EX): Excellent sports cards show visible wear on all four corners and centering no worse than 80/20. Observable print spots, dull color, or slight focus imperfections.

  • Very good (VG): Very good sports cards have at least 80/20 centering. Slight creasing, barely noticeable abrasions, rounded corners.

  • Fair to good: Fair to good sports cards may have rounded corners, poor centering, obvious gloss loss, creases, and general wear and tear.


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Follow Sports Card Buying Tips


Follow Sports Card Buying Tips

Before buying, research the sports cards that interest you. Determine what specific cards you want, the conditions you will accept, and their worth. Set a firm budget and stick to it.

Here are some additional tips to consider:

  • Study the card description: Good listings include information about age, authenticity, condition, and provenance (how, when, and where the item was obtained).

  • Learn the card’s value: Determine the monetary value of cards by consulting Beckett Media Price Guides or other pricing authorities. Keep in mind, however, that these prices are only rough guides. The true value of a card is determined by its desirability in the market, which can fluctuate widely depending on many factors. A rare Yankees card, for example, may command a higher price in New York City than in Los Angeles. eBay buyers can also take advantage of the “Quick Opinion Program” available through PSA/DNA that provides a response of “Likely Genuine,” “Unlikely Genuine,” or “Cannot Render an Opinion” usually within 24 to 36 hours.

  • Check the grade: Note whether the card was professionally graded by an independent grading service. If so, it will mention a three-letter acronym of the grader (such as PSA for Professional Sports Authenticator) plus a grading number (from 1-10). If the card’s condition is described with words (such as “Excellent to near mint condition”), it’s probably an ungraded card.

  • Examine pictures: Make sure the images jive with the description.


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Get Accessories to Protect Your Sports Cards


Get Accessories to Protect Your Sports Cards

The value of a card is determined in part by its condition. A card’s worth may increase over time, so be sure to protect your cards from damage. No matter how desirable your card might be on the market, wear and tear can greatly reduce its value. You can find a full range of storage and display supplies on eBay that will keep your cards safe.

Supplies to consider include:

  • D-ring binders with protective polypropylene pages: For general storage and display.

  • Topload card holders: For protecting single cards in soft, semi-rigid, or rigid plastic sleeves.

  • Screwdown or snap card holders: For protecting your most valuable cards.

  • Storage boxes (plastic or cardboard): For storing large numbers of cards.


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Find Sports Cards on eBay


Find Sports Cards on eBay

Once you know what types of Sports Cards you want, go to the Sports Mem, Cards & Fan Shop portal, click Cards, and start searching for item listings on eBay.

  • Categories: The Categories list on the left side of each page will help you narrow down your listings by item type. You'll find links for Baseball-MLB, Basketball-NBA, Football-NFL, Hockey-NHL, and more. As you dig deeper into the site you'll also be able to narrow down your choice by brand.

  • Keyword search: Search eBay listing titles for specific words. For example, if you want to find a Michael Jordan card, type "jordan" (without quotation marks) into the Search box. Click "Search title and description" to expand your results. Visit eBay's Search Tips page for more tips on searching with keywords.

If you can't find exactly what you want, try shopping eBay Stores, tell the eBay Community what you want by creating a post on Want It Now, or save a search on My eBay and eBay will email you when a match becomes available.


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Buy Sports Cards with Confidence


Buy Sports Cards with Confidence

Before making your purchase, make sure you know exactly what you're buying, research your seller, and understand how eBay and PayPal protect you.

Know your purchase

Carefully read the details in item listings.

  • Figure delivery costs into your final price. If you spend a lot of money, make sure the seller will insure the item when it ships.

  • If you want more information, ask by clicking the "Ask seller a question" link under the seller's profile.

  • Always make sure to complete your transaction on eBay (with a bid, Buy It Now, or Best Offer). Transactions conducted outside of eBay are not covered by eBay protection programs.

  • Never pay for your eBay item using instant cash wire transfer services through Western Union or MoneyGram. These payment methods are unsafe when paying someone you do not know.

Know your seller

Research your seller so you feel positive and secure about every transaction.

  • What is the seller's Feedback rating? How many transactions have they completed? What percentage of positive responses do they have?

  • What do buyers say in their Feedback? Did the seller receive praise?

  • Most top eBay sellers operate like retail stores and have return policies. Do they offer a money-back guarantee? What are the terms and conditions?

Buyer protection

In the unlikely event that you don't receive your item or it is not as described, eBay Buyer Protection will cover your purchase price plus original shipping. Learn more.


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